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Updated: June 16th, 2014 8:44pm
Zulgad: Polian's plan would keep Bridgewater on the bench this season

Zulgad: Polian's plan would keep Bridgewater on the bench this season

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by Judd Zulgad

The case was made in this space a month ago that the Vikings should exercise great patience when it comes to handing over the starting quarterback job to first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater.

The thought process in forming this opinion centered on a few factors.

Although Christian Ponder probably would have been a bust no matter what happened, the Vikings' first-round pick in 2011 was done no favors when the team benched a terrible Donovan McNabb and inserted Ponder in the sixth game of his rookie season.

It was a desperation move made with little thought as to whether Ponder was really ready to start.

There also is the fact that the Vikings have a serviceable veteran in Matt Cassel to start this season while Bridgewater watches and learns. Even if Cassel struggles, the Vikings would be ill-advised to force Bridgewater onto the field before he was ready.

All of these seemed like good points at the time. They seem better now, as the Vikings prepare to open their three-day mandatory minicamp on Tuesday at Winter Park under first-year coach Mike Zimmer.

That's because former Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts executive Bill Polian, now an analyst for ESPN, has presented a compelling case for why rookie quarterbacks should not play in an Insider article he wrote for the network's website.

Polian, you might recall, was the vice chairman of the Colts from 1998 to 2011, meaning he was in Indianapolis when future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning started all 16 games as a rookie in '98. The Colts went 3-13 that season.

"It takes multiple seasons to develop a truly capable NFL starter under center," Polian writes. "And that's why, if it were up to me, none of this year's drafted quarterbacks would take a snap in the 2014 season.

"It is unlikely any of them can succeed in Year 1 beyond simply improving. And I don't say that because they lack talent. I say that because the learning curve of an NFL quarterback is a long one, and simply adapting to the league makes first-year success a near impossibility without ideal circumstances, no matter who you are."

Polian goes on to make the point that "there's no such thing as an NFL-ready quarterback in Year 1." He puts Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Manning in that group.

That's interesting considering that Polian knows far more about NFL players than many of us and also because Luck, Griffin and Wilson led their teams to playoff berths as rookies.

Polian's feeling is that it takes a four-year maturation process coming out of the draft for a quarterback to fully develop.

The first year, Polian writes, is nothing more than a learning process in which a "basic understanding" of the concepts of an NFL offense are learned. That means rookie QBs are doing nothing more than basic math in a league where the top passers are practicing calculus.

The second year, according to Polian, enables quarterbacks to start understanding what a defense is trying to do and react to the defensive schemes. "Instead of learning the plays and routes, they're learning theory," Polian says. " ... Physically, they're reworking their footwork, delivery timing, tempo and addressing other mechanical issues. In short, they are learning to become passers, and not throwers."

The third year should be the one in which a quarterback can process every situation, call audibles and execute in a variety of situations.

Finally, by the fourth season, Polian writes a quarterback should know everything about the offense he is running, as well as fully processing what the defense is trying to do. This includes looking off defenders, something Brett Favre was a magician at during his fantastic 2009 season in Minnesota.

This is not to say that anyone believes Bridgewater should sit until his fourth season. However, there is a definite case to be made that he shouldn't play in year one.

Polian goes on to write that there is a new position many NFL executives have to consider when putting together a 53-man roster in 2014. That would be the bridge quarterback.

Polian's definition of this player is a guy who doesn't have the ability to be a franchise-player but has the experience to keep his team competitive while a young quarterback matures behind him.

Sound familiar? It should. The Vikings have that guy in Cassel and agreed to a $10 million, two-year contract with him in March so he could be their bridge quarterback for at least one season.

One former NFL executive would approve of that plan. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd